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New endowment supports entrepreneurs

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New endowment supports entrepreneurs

Christopher and Laurie Olivia.

17 October 2018


A surgically implantable heart pump, a microscope that revealed the atom for the first time, the synthetic progesterone used in birth control pills—Penn State’s researchers have the scientific expertise and the innovative ideas needed to create life-changing products. With a new endowment, the first of its kind, Christopher and Laurie Olivia want to help them bring their ideas to the marketplace.

The Christopher T. and Laurie E. Olivia Lab Bench to Commercial Innovation Endowment in the Eberly College of Science will assist recipients of Lab Bench to Commercial Innovation Grants in evaluating and marketing their existing intellectual property or other projects. By providing crucial early stage venture capital, the endowment will give life to ideas—backed by solid research—that have the potential to make a real difference in people’s lives.

According to Christopher Olivia ‘84 Science B.S., the time to invest in entrepreneurial endeavors at Penn State is now.

“President Eric Barron’s Invent Penn State initiative situates economic development and entrepreneurship at the very core of the Penn State mission, and it seeks to improve the lives of people in Pennsylvania and around the world,” he said. “It is our hope that this endowment will help to create businesses in the state that will employ future generations of Penn State graduates and help attract the best researchers to the University’s faculty.”

Entrepreneurship is in Olivia’s blood as he has been involved in starting more than a dozen companies.

In a 2011 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, he said “After integrity, tenacity is the most important virtue in life.”

His career is a testament to these words. In fact, his work to transform ailing medical institutions into profitable, thriving organizations has required considerable determination and business acumen. For example, as CEO of the nearly bankrupt University Physicians/Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and subsequently of Cooper University Hospital, he transformed the organization into one of New Jersey’s leading and most successful healthcare providers. He then went on to resurrect West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS)—after it had lost $100 million per year— and made it profitable prior to merging it with Highmark in the largest payer-provider merger to date.

A Penn Stater through and through, Olivia sees entrepreneurship as an important component of the University’s future.

“Penn State receives recurring funding from five primary sources: tuition, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania appropriations, federal and industrial grants, philanthropy and intellectual property,” he said. “The first three of these sources are limited for practical and political reasons. In contrast, philanthropy and intellectual property funding are unlimited. They can help secure Penn State’s future in light of uncertainty in the other funding sources.”

The Olivias’ $100,000 gift will be matched 1:1 by the university and will be distributed at the discretion of the dean of the Eberly College of Science toward the goal of helping research take the next steps in forming businesses or otherwise commercializing intellectual property. Profits received through licensing or commercialization of this intellectual property will be reinvested side by side with the endowment into the college’s Innovation Program.

“Laurie and I want the Innovation Program to grow and succeed and hopefully serve as a model for the other Penn State colleges that generate significant bench research,” said Olivia. “Reinvesting profits made possible by our endowment will help the college to continue to capitalize on the vast know-how and expertise of its researchers, creating opportunities for Penn State students and the local Pennsylvania communities throughout the Commonwealth that the University serves. We are hopeful that it will help to position the University for success for many years to come.”